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Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions

Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions

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Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions

valutazioni:
4.5/5 (3 valutazioni)
Lunghezza:
930 pagine
12 ore
Pubblicato:
Mar 31, 2009
ISBN:
9780643098756
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that climate change is a reality, and that changes are happening with increasing rapidity. In this second edition, leading climate researcher Barrie Pittock revisits the effects that global warming is having on our planet, in light of ever-evolving scientific research.

Presenting all sides of the arguments about the science and possible remedies, Pittock examines the latest analyses of climate change, such as new and alarming observations regarding Arctic sea ice, the recently published IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and the policies of the new Australian Government and how they affect the implementation of climate change initiatives.

New material focuses on massive investments in large-scale renewables, such as the kind being taken up in California, as well as many smaller-scale activities in individual homes and businesses which are being driven by both regulatory and market mechanisms. The book includes extensive endnotes with links to ongoing and updated information, as well as some new illustrations.

While the message is clear that climate change is here (and in some areas, might already be having disastrous effects), there is still hope for the future, and the ideas presented here will inspire people to take action. Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions is an important reference for students in environmental or social sciences, policy makers, and people who are genuinely concerned about the future of our environment.

Pubblicato:
Mar 31, 2009
ISBN:
9780643098756
Formato:
Libro

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  • Changes in the behaviour of the weather over longer time scales, such as one century to another, are usually referred to as ‘climate change’.Conventionally, 30-year intervals have been used for calculating averages and estimating weather vari-ability.

  • Human activities have increased the concentrations of several greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, lead-ing to what is termed the ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’. These gases in-clude carbon dioxide, methane and several other artificial chemicals.

  • Statistically significant associations be-tween changes in regional climate and observed changes in physical and biological systems have been documented in freshwater, terres-trial and marine environments on all continents.

  • Earth’s atmosphere from waste gases due to industry, farm animals and land clearing, or changes in the land surface reflectivity caused by land clearing, cropping and irrigation.

  • Human-induced climate change is a huge, highly topical and rapidly changing subject.

Anteprima del libro

Climate Change - A Barrie Pittock

SECOND EDITION

CLIMATE

CHANGE

The Science, Impacts and Solutions

A. BARRIE PITTOCK

© CSIRO 2009

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO PUBLISHING for all permission requests.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Pittock, A. Barrie, 1938–

Climate change : the science, impacts and solutions / A.

Barrie Pittock.

2nd ed.

9780643094840 (pbk.)

Includes index.

Bibliography.

Climatic changes – Government policy.

Climatic changes – Risk assessment.

Global environmental change.

Greenhouse effect, Atmospheric. Global warming.

551.6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for.

Published exclusively in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas, and non-exclusively in other territories of the world (excluding Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa), by:

CSIRO PUBLISHING

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Front cover photos by (left to right): iStockphoto, NASA, NASA, the Australian National University

Set in 10.5/14 Palatino

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CSIRO PUBLISHING publishes and distributes scientific, technical and health science books, magazines and journals from Australia to a worldwide audience and conducts these activities autonomously from the research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, the publisher or CSIRO.

CONTENTS

Foreword

Acknowledgements

Introduction

1   Climate change matters

Turning up the heat

Why is the present rapid warming happening?

The importance of delayed climate responses

Observed impacts

Trends in human vulnerability

Projections of future climate change

Facing the challenge

Conclusion

Endnotes

2   Learning from the past1

Proxy data: clues from the past

The record of the ice ages

The causes of past climate change

Variations in the Earth’s orbit

Role of greenhouse gases in amplifying climate changes

Variations in solar output

Volcanoes, cosmic collisions and aerosols

Rapid climate changes in the past

The last 10 000 years

Conclusions from the past record

Endnotes

3   Projecting the future

The need for, and nature of, foresight

Predictions, scenarios and projections

The emissions scenarios used by the IPCC

Projections of socio-economic futures

Forecasting the weather

Why climate projections are different

How good are climate models?

The state of climate projections

Endnotes

4   Uncertainty is inevitable, but risk is certain

Despite uncertainties, decisions have to be made

Uncertainty in climate change projections

From polarisation to probability and risk

Estimating risk

Uncertainty and the role of sceptics

Application of the ‘precautionary principle’

Endnotes

5   What climate changes are likely?

Projected climate changes

Surface warming

Regional warmings

Precipitation and evaporation

Extreme events

Sea-level rise

Thresholds and abrupt or irreversible changes

Scenarios in a nutshell

Endnotes

6   Impacts: why be concerned?

Climate change impacts – reasons for concern

Thresholds and abrupt changes

Risks to unique and threatened systems

Risks from extreme climate events

Distribution of impacts

Aggregate impacts

Waking the sleeping giants

Effects of a breakdown in the ocean circulation

Rapid sea-level rise from melting ice sheets

Runaway carbon dynamics

Security implications

Stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations

Growing reasons for concern

Endnotes

7   Adaptation: living with climate change

Adaptation concepts and strategies

Costs and benefits of adaptation

Implementation

Effects of different rates of climatic change

Equity issues in adaptation

Enhancing adaptive capacity

Endnotes

8   Mitigation: limiting climate change

Why mitigation is necessary

Targets: how much mitigation is needed?

Where we are now

How difficult is mitigation?

The looming peak in oil production

Mitigation options

Increased energy efficiency

Changes in infrastructure and behaviour

Fuel substitution

Nuclear power

Hydropower

Solar energy

Wind power

Biomass energy

Tidal and wave energy

Geothermal power

The hydrogen economy

Carbon capture and sequestration

Land-based carbon sinks

Geoengineering possibilities

Technological innovation: attitude is vital

The road to effective mitigation

Endnotes

9   Climate change in context

Surface air pollution and climate change

Stratospheric ozone depletion

Land-use change, biodiversity, agriculture and forestry

Land degradation and desertification

Freshwater supply

Population growth

Synergies and trade-offs

Integration, sustainable development and equity

Postscript: connections between economic and climate crises

Endnotes

10  The politics of greenhouse

Is the science credible?

What about the uncertainty?

How realistic are the scenarios?

Choosing global and local emissions targets

How urgently do we need to act?

How much will reducing emissions cost?

Meeting targets most efficiently

International equity: what is fair?

The importance of equity within countries

Equity between generations

The role of governments and NGOs

What role should business take?

The role of state and local governments

So what are the politics of greenhouse?

Endnotes

11  International concern and national interests

A brief history

The Kyoto Protocol

National interests and climate change

African nations

Australia and New Zealand

China

European Union

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Latin America

The Russian Federation

Small Island States

United States of America

The common interest in global solutions

Endnotes

12  Accepting the challenge

Looking beyond the Kyoto Protocol

Addressing the key issues

Endnotes

Glossary (with acronyms)

Index

FOREWORD

Barrie Pittock has been a leading researcher of considerable standing worldwide on various aspects of climate change. The quality and content of research carried out by him has established a benchmark that sets the standard for several of his peers and provides a model for young researchers.

In this book he has provided a comprehensive analysis of various aspects of climate change, which he begins by examining the physical and biological aspects of climate change and a detailed analysis of the science of the climate system. The book assumes great topical interest for the reader because of several questions that the author has posed and attempted to answer, such as the recent heatwave that took place in Paris in the summer of 2003, the frequency of closure of the Thames barrier, and the melting of glaciers which affects not only parts of Europe but even the high mountain glaciers in the Himalayas.

A study of paleoclimate is an important component of present-day climate change research, and the book goes through a lucid and useful assessment of the evidence that is available to us today in understanding and quantifying the nature and extent of climate change in the past. Also presented in considerable detail are projections of climate change in the future including a discussion of the emissions scenarios developed and used by the IPCC and projections obtained from it as well as from other sources.

DR RAJENDRA K PACHAURI

Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute, India and Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2005

An extremely eloquent statement is conveyed in the title of Chapter 4, which states ‘Uncertainty is inevitable, but risk is certain’. This really is the key message in this book particularly as it goes on to describe the impacts of climate change, the seriousness with which these should be considered and the imperative need for adaptation. In Chapter 8 a comprehensive and detailed assessment is provided on several mitigation actions. The volume ends by making a logical transition into political issues that have national as well as international dimensions.

For sheer breadth and comprehensiveness of coverage, Barrie Pittock’s book fills a unique void in the literature in this field. Coming as it does from an author who knows the scientific and technical complexities of the whole subject, this book should be seen as a valuable reference for scientists and policymakers alike.

In my view, which is shared by a growing body of concerned citizens worldwide, climate change is a challenge faced by the global community that will require unprecedented resolve and increasing ingenuity to tackle in the years ahead. Efforts to be made would need to be based on knowledge and informed assessment of the future. Barrie Pittock’s book provides information and analysis that will greatly assist and guide decision makers on what needs to be done.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This book is the result of many years working on climate change, nearly all based in CSIRO Atmospheric Research (now part of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research) in Australia and especially with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I therefore thank many colleagues in CSIRO and many others from numerous countries whom I met through IPCC or other forums. My views have been influenced by their collective research and arguments, as well as my own research, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

A book such as this inevitably draws from and builds on the work that has gone before it. Since subtle changes in wording can easily lead to misinterpretation in this field, some content in this book has been carefully paraphrased from, or closely follows the original sources to ensure accuracy. Some sections in the present book are drawn from the following: parts of the IPCC Reports, especially the Fourth Assessment Report in 2007; a book that I edited for the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) in 2003 Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts; and a paper I wrote for the journal Climatic Change in 2002 ‘What we know and don’t know about climate change: reflections on the IPCC TAR’ (Climatic Change vol. 53, pp. 393–411). This applies particularly to parts of Chapter 3 on projecting the future, Chapter 5 on projected climate changes, Chapter 6 on impacts and Chapter 7 on adaptation concepts. I thank the AGO, the IPCC and Springer (publishers of Climatic Change) for permission to use some common wording. I have endeavoured to acknowledge all sources in the text, captions or endnotes, however, if any have been overlooked I apologise to the original authors and/or publishers.

The following Figures come from other sources, who granted permission to use them, for which I am grateful. Some have been modified, and the original sources are not responsible for any changes. These are: Figures 1, 7, 10, 15, 16, 17, and 28 (all unchanged) from IPCC; Figure 4 from UK Environment Agency; Figure 5 from INVS, France; Figure 9 from David Etheridge, CSIRO; Figures 13, 14, and 26 from Roger Jones, CSIRO; Figure 18 from US NASA; Figure 19, 20, and 21 from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center; Figure 23 from T. Coleman, Insurance Group Australia; Figure 28 from the Water Corporation, Western Australia; Figure 30 from Dr. Jim Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science; Figure 31 from Martin Dix of CSIRO and courtesy of the modelling groups, the Programme for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) of the World Climate Research Programme; Figure 33 from CSIRO Climate Impacts Group and Government of New South Wales; Figure 34 from Greg Bourne, now at WWF Australia; Figure 35 from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission; and Figure 36 from Kathy McInnes, CSIRO and Chalapan Kaluwin, AMSAT, Fiji.

Particular people I want to thank are:

From CSIRO: Tom Beer, Willem Bouma, Peter K Campbell, John Church, Kevin Hennessy, Paul Holper, Roger Jones, Kathy McInnes, Simon Torok, Penny Whetton, and John Wright. Also Rachel Anning (UK Environment Agency), Martin Beniston (Universite de Fribourg, Switzerland), Andre Berger (Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium), Greg Bourne (WWF, Australia), Mark Diesendorf (University of NSW), Pascal Empereur-Bissonnet (INVS, France), Andrew Glikson (ANU), James Hansen (NASA GISS), Dale Hess (BoM and CSIRO, Australia), William Howard (U. Tasmania), Murari Lal (Climate, Energy and Sustainable Development Analyis Centre, India), Keith Lovegrove (ANU); Mark Maslin (U. College London, UK), Mike MacCracken (Climate Institute, Washington), Tony McMichael (ANU, Australia), Bettina Menne (WHO, Italy), Neville Nicholls (BoM, Australia), Martin Parry (Jackson Institute, UK), Jamie Pittock (WWF and ANU, Australia), Thomas W. Pogge (Columbia University, USA), Alan Robock (Rutgers University), Brian Sadler (IOCI, Australia), David Spratt (Carbon Equity, Australia), Philip Sutton (Greenleap Strategic Insitute, Australia), and Christopher Thomas (NSW GH Office, Australia). Probably I have omitted some people who helped, and apologise to them for my oversight.

Special thanks goes to Graeme Pearman and Greg Ayers, successive Chiefs of CSIRO Atmospheric Research and CMAR, for my position as a Post-Retirement Fellow, and more recently as an Honorary Fellow. Special thanks also to Paul Durack and Roger Jones for help with Figures, and to John Manger, Ann Crabb (first edition), Tracey Millen and colleagues at CSIRO Publishing. Their insightful and helpful editing comments and discussions have greatly improved the book.

The views expressed in this work are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of CSIRO, the AGO, the IPCC or other parties.

Finally, I want to thank my partner Diana Pittock, for her support and forbearance during the writing and extensive revision of this book.

INTRODUCTION

Human-induced climate change is a huge, highly topical and rapidly changing subject. New books, reports and scientific papers on the subject are appearing with amazing frequency. It is tempting to say that if they were all piled in a heap and buried underground the amount of carbon so sequestered would solve the problem. But seriously, there is a need to justify yet another book on the subject.

This book is a substantial update of my Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat (2005). That book was meant as a serious discussion of the science, implications and policy questions arising, addressed to an educated non-specialist audience. It presented both sides of many arguments, rather than adopting a racy and simplified advocacy position. It was, in the words of some friends, a ‘solid read’. It found a niche as a tertiary textbook in many multi-disciplinary courses, where its objectivity and comprehensiveness were appreciated.

Developments since 2005, in the science, the observations and the politics of climate change are so substantial that they warrant major changes to both the content and tone of the book. Hence the new title Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions.

The urgency of the climate change challenge is now far more apparent than in 2005, with new observations showing that on many fronts climate change and its impacts are occurring faster than expected. There is a growing probability that we are approaching or have already passed one or more ‘tipping points’ that may lead to irreversible trends. This is now well documented, but there is a need for a concise and accurate summary of the evidence and its implications for individual and joint action. The message is not new, but a growing sense of urgency is needed, and clarity about the choices and opportunities is essential. It is also essential to convey the need for continual updating, and to provide the means to do so via relevant regular publications, learned journals and websites.

Back in 1972 I wrote a paper entitled ‘How important are climatic changes?’ It concluded that human dependence on a stable climate might be more critical than was generally believed. This dependence, I argued, is readily seen in the relationship between rainfall patterns and patterns of land and water use, including use for industrial and urban purposes. The paper argued that the severity of the economic adjustments required by a change in climate depend on the relation between the existing economy and its climatic environment, and the rapidity of climate change.

My first projections of possible future patterns of climate change were published in 1980, based on the early findings of relatively crude computer models of climate, combined with a look at the contrasts between individual warm and cold years, paleo-climatic reconstructions of earlier warm epochs, and some theoretical arguments.

In 1988 I founded the Climate Impact Group in CSIRO in Australia. This group sought to bridge the gap between climate modellers, with their projections of climate change and sea-level rise, and people interested in the potential effects on crops, water resources, coastal zones and other parts of the natural and social systems and environment. Despite reservations from some colleagues who wanted greater certainty before going public on scientific findings that identify risk, the Climate Impact Group approach of publicly quantifying risk won wide respect. This culminated in the award in 1999 of an Australian Public Service Medal, and in 2003 of the Sherman Eureka Prize for Environmental Research, one of Australia’s most prestigious national awards for environmental science.

The object of the CSIRO Climate Impact Group’s endeavours was never to make exact predictions of what will happen, because we recognised that there are inevitable uncertainties about both the science and socio-economic conditions resulting from human behaviour. Rather, we sought to provide the best possible advice as to what might happen, its impacts on society, and on the consequences of various policy choices, so that decision-makers could make informed risk assessments and choices that would influence future outcomes.

These days, writing, or even updating a book on a ‘hot topic’ like climate change is a bit of a wild ride. Lots of things keep happening during the process. This includes the US Presidential election of November 2008, the international economic crisis, and the wild fluctuations in the price of oil. The implications of such events remain to be played out, and are merely touched on in this book. Several other major developments have stood out in the case of this book and are dealt with more fully.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2007 strongly confirmed that climate change due to human activities is happening and that its consequences are likely to be serious. Further, it broadly confirmed the findings of the UK Stern Review that the consequences of climate change under business-as-usual scenarios are likely to be far more expensive than efforts to limit climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also pointed out that stabilising concentrations of carbon dioxide equivalent (treating all greenhouse gases as if they were carbon dioxide) at 450 ppm still leaves a more than 50% chance of global warmings greater than 2°C relative to preindustrial conditions, and possibly as high as 3°C.

We are thus forced to consider whether in order to avoid dangerous climate change we must keep greenhouse gas concentrations well below 450 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent. This is a ‘big ask’, as concentrations of carbon dioxide alone are already in 2008 about 380 ppm and rising at an increasing rate, recently about 2 ppm each year. This highlights the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions far below present levels in the next decade, rather than several decades down the track. Indeed, IPCC suggests that to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at less than 450 ppm may require us to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere after it has overshot this target.

Further pointers towards urgency have arisen from the well-documented observations in the last two years of more rapid climate change, and of the kicking in of positive feedback (amplifying) processes that lead to an acceleration of global warming and sea-level rise. Carbon dioxide concentrations, global warming and sea-level rise are all tracking near the upper end of the range of uncertainty in the 2007 IPCC report.

Arctic sea ice is melting more rapidly than projected in the IPCC report, and reached a startlingly low minimum extent in September 2007. Moreover, permafrost is melting, floating ice shelves have rapidly disintegrated by processes not previously considered, forests are burning more frequently, droughts in mid-latitudes are getting worse, and so it goes.

All this leads to the possibility of apocalyptic outcomes, with associated gloom and doom: multimetre sea-level rise displacing millions of people, regional water shortages and mass starvation, conflict and economic disaster. Faced with such possibilities, three broad psychological reactions are likely: nihilism (it’s all hopeless so let’s enjoy ourselves while we can), fundamentalism (falling back on some rigid set of beliefs such as that God, or the free market, will save us), or activism in the belief that we can still deal with the problem if we apply ourselves with a sufficient sense of urgency.

I tend to favour the third approach, in the belief that human beings are intelligent creatures and that with ingenuity and commitment we can achieve the seemingly unachievable, as happened in the Second World War and the Space Race. There is also still a lot of uncertainty, and the situation may not be quite as bad as we may fear, so let’s give it a good try.

A few contrarians continue to raise the same tired objections that some particular observations or details are in doubt. They continue to accuse climate modellers of neglecting well-recognised mechanisms like solar variability or water vapour effects, which have long been included in climate modelling. They refuse to look at the balance of evidence as presented in the IPCC reports, and prefer to seize on the odd observation that might not fit, or some alternative theory, without applying the same scepticism to their favoured ‘fact’ or theory. Others set out a false dichotomy between combating climate change and other global problems, or propagate scare stories about the cost of reducing emissions.

Responsible decision-makers must follow a risk management strategy, and look at the balance of evidence, the full range of uncertainty, and put climate change in the context of other global problems, which in general exacerbate each other. I favour the advice and examples of the social and technological optimists and entrepreneurs who argue and demonstrate that we can rapidly develop a prosperous future with low greenhouse gas emissions if we put our minds to it. That way we can improve living standards both in the industrialised and developing countries, while minimising the risks and costs of climate change damage. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. We are not short of inventions that might conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What is needed is a commitment to developing these into large-scale production and application, with the implicit opportunity for new more energy-efficient and sustainable technologies. Efficiency, that is, using less energy, can be profitable, and the large-scale application of renewable energy technologies can reduce their cost until they are competitive.

While acknowledged uncertainties mean we are dealing with risks rather than certainties, the risks will increase over coming decades if we do not act. If we sit back and say to ourselves that the risks are too small to worry about, or too costly to prevent, they are likely to catch up with us all too soon. We, as consumers, business people and members of the public can turn things around by our choices and especially by making our opinions known. We do not have to wait for national governments to act, or for laws and taxes to compel us. Individual and group choices, initiatives, ingenuity, innovation and action can achieve wonders.

However, our individual and corporate actions would be far more more effective if we could persuade governments to recognise the urgency and act now to really push for a reduction in greenhouse emissions this decade. Climate change, abrupt or not, is a real risk. It is also a challenge and an opportunity for innovative thinking and action. With a bit of luck and a lot of skill, we can transform the challenge of climate change into a positive opportunity. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also help avoid other environmental damages and promote sustainable development and greater equity between peoples and countries.

Public opinion and government attitudes are changing rapidly, even in countries whose governments have been slow to commit to urgent action on climate change. One of the stand-out reluctant countries, my very own Australia, has recently committed itself, after a change of government, to the Kyoto Protocol and the new negotiation process for more stringent emissions reductions in the future. New information is being absorbed and stronger advocacy is convincing people it is time to act. The ‘former next President of the United States’, Al Gore, has been influential with his film and book An Inconvenient Truth. Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 convinced people that even rich countries like the United States are vulnerable to climate disasters, and numerous books advocating action, such as those by George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Tim Flannery have appeared and sold well.

Above all, IPCC has been forthright, if still guarded, in its statements. Along with Al Gore and many other activists, the IPCC 2007 report has stirred the world to action, as was recognised by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007.

However, even the IPCC is inevitably behind the times, as its 2007 report only assessed new material up to about May 2006. Much new information has become available since then, and I have attempted to summarise it in what follows. This book is meant to continue the process of developing and informing an intelligent approach to meeting the challenge of climate change and seizing the opportunity to help create a better and more sustainable world where other global problems can also be addressed. It is intended to answer, in readily understood terms, frequently asked questions about climate change, such as:

 What is the relationship between natural climate variations and human-induced climate change?

 What are the major concerns regarding climate change?

 Why are there arguments about the reality of climate change, and its policy implications?

 How does climate change relate to other problems like population growth, poverty, pollution and land degradation?

 How urgent is the problem? What can we do about it, and how much will it cost?

This book is meant, in a concise and understandable manner, to sort fact from fiction. It recognises that uncertainties are inevitable, and sets climate change in a framework of assessing climate risk alongside all the other human problems about which we have imperfect knowledge. It should help readers to choose a sensible course between the head-in-the-sand reaction of some contrarians and the doom-and-gloom view of some alarmists. It builds on the scientific base of the well-tested and accepted reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, putting the findings in the context of other human concerns.

We must look beyond the doom and gloom. Projections of rapid climate change with severe consequences are a prophecy, not in the sense that they are bound to come true, but in the sense of a prophetic warning that if we continue on our present course these are the logical consequences. Modern scientific ‘prophets of doom’ follow in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. The Biblical prophets were not preaching damnation, but appealing for a change of direction, so that damnation could be avoided. Similarly, climate scientists who warn about potentially dangerous climate change hope that such forebodings will motivate people to act to avoid the danger.

Hope lies not only in science, but in going beyond the science to grapple with the policy questions and the moral imperatives that the scientific projections throw into stark relief. In this book I go some way down this road, making direct links between the science and the consequences, which are important for policy. If this encourages you to address the issues, to make your own assessment of the risk, and to act accordingly, this book will have achieved its purpose.

Now a few words to the serious student of climate change on how to use this book.

First, it covers a huge range of subjects and disciplines from physics, chemistry and the other ‘hard’ and social sciences, to politics and policy. My original expertise was in physics (with a side interest in anthropology), so I have been forced to learn about the other subjects from books, papers and especially from websites and talking to people. Climate change is an overarching topic, and the reality is that everything is connected to everything else (for example see Chapter 9), so policy-relevance requires an enquiring and open mind.

Second, there is a set of endnotes at the end of each chapter. These not only document what is said (often including opposing points of view), but supply pointers to more information, and especially to websites or ongoing publications where you can update what is in the book. Frankly, nobody can be expected to keep up to date in detail on every aspect of climate change science and policy. The number of scientific papers on the subject has grown exponentially over the last decade. One of my colleagues estimates that if every relevant scientific publication since the IPCC 2007 report is referenced in the next edition in three or four years’ time, it would require about a thousand pages just to list all the references. I have selected websites and learned journals in my endnotes that will enable you to keep up where you can, but even that is not complete – I have obviously missed or selected from a larger number of relevant references. But web searches these days are amazingly efficient at finding what you need to know. Use them well and with good judgement as to the reliability and possible biases of the source.

Finally, I want to dedicate this book to my grandchildren, Jenny, Ella, Kyan and Gem, whose future is at stake, along with that of all future generations. It is for them that we must meet the challenge of climate change. If the urgency is as great as I fear it is, it is us and our children, alive today, who will have to deal with the consequences. We can have a positive influence on our children’s future.

1

Climate change matters

Today, global climate change is a fact. The climate has changed visibly, tangibly, measurably. An additional increase in average temperatures is not only possible, but very probable, while human intervention in the natural climate system plays an important, if not decisive role.

BRUNO PORRO, CHIEF RISK OFFICER, SWISS REINSURANCE, 2002.¹

Climate change is a major concern in relation to the minerals sector and sustainable development. It is, potentially, one of the greatest of all threats to the environment, to biodiversity and ultimately to our quality of life.

FACING THE FUTURE, MINING MINERALS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AUSTRALIA, 2002.²

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

AL GORE, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LECTURE, 10 DECEMBER 2007.³

Climate is critical to the world as we know it. The landscape, and the plants and animals in it, are all determined to a large extent by climate acting over long intervals of time. Over geological time, climate has helped to shape mountains, build up the soil, determine the nature of the rivers, and build flood plains and deltas. At least until the advent of irrigation and industrialisation, climate determined food supplies and where human beings could live. Today, with modern technology, humans can live in places where it was impossible before. This is achieved by the provision of buildings and complex infrastructure tuned to the existing climate, such as urban and rural water supplies, drainage, bridges, roads and other communications. These involve huge investments of time and money. Trade, particularly of food and fibre for manufactured goods, has also been strongly influenced by climate. Roads, buildings and towns are designed taking local climate into consideration. Design rules, both formal and informal, zoning and safety standards are developed to cope not just with average climate but also with climatic extremes such as floods and droughts. If the climate changes, human society must adapt by changing its designs, rules and infrastructure – often at great expense, especially for retrofitting existing infrastructure.

In broad terms, ‘climate’ is the typical range of weather, including its variability, experienced at a particular place. It is often expressed statistically, in terms of averages over a season or number of years, of temperature or rainfall and sometimes in terms of other variables such as wind, humidity, and so on. Variability is an important factor. ‘Climate variability’ is variability in the average weather behaviour at a particular location from one year to another, or one decade to another. Changes in the behaviour of the weather over longer time scales, such as one century to another, are usually referred to as ‘climate change’.

Conventionally, 30-year intervals have been used for calculating averages and estimating weather variability. However, natural climate varies on time scales from year-to-year, through decade-to-decade to longer-term fluctuations over centuries and millennia.

Extreme weather events are part of climate. Their impact is reflected in the design of human settlements and activities (such as farming) so as to be able to survive floods, droughts, severe storms and other weather-related stresses or catastrophes. Because climate can vary from decade to decade, reliable averages of the frequency and magnitudes of extreme events require weather observations over longer periods than the conventional 30 years. Engineers design infrastructure (buildings, bridges, dams, drains, etc.) to cope with extreme weather events that occur on average only once in every 50, 100 or 1000 years. The more serious the consequence of design failure under extreme weather conditions, the longer the time interval considered, for example for a large dam as opposed to a street drain.

Turning up the heat

Climate has changed greatly over geological timescales, as we shall see in Chapter 2. But what is of immediate concern is that climate has shown an almost unprecedented rapid global warming trend in the last few decades.

Since the start of reliable observations in the nineteenth century, scientists from weather services and research laboratories in many countries have examined local, regional and global average surface air and water temperatures, on land, from ships and more recently from orbiting satellites.

The World Meteorological Organization, which coordinates weather services around the globe, has declared that 2005 and 1998 were the two warmest years on record, since reliable weather records began in 1861, and just warmer than 2003. The decade of 1998–2007 was the warmest on record. Twelve of the last 13 years (1995–2007), with the exception of 1996, rank amongst the 12 warmest years since reliable records began in 1850. Since the start of the twentieth century the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74 ± 0.18°C, and the linear warming trend over the last 50 years, around 0.13 ± 0.3°C per decade, is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.

Note that when scientists give such estimates they usually include a range of uncertainty, which in the former case above is ± 0.18°C. Thus the increase could be as low as 0.56°C or as high as 0.92°C. In this case the uncertainties allow for possible inaccuracies in individual measurements, and how well the average from the limited number of individual measurement stations represents the average from all locations.

Indirect evidence from tree rings, ice cores, boreholes, and other climate-sensitive indicators (see Chapter 2) indicates that, despite a lesser warm interval round 1000 AD (the so-called ‘Medieval Warm Period’) the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. Moreover, the last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than the present for an extended period (some 125 000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to global sea levels 4 to 6 m above the present. Variations of the Earth’s surface temperature since 1850, along with global average sea level from 1870 and northern hemisphere snow cover since the 1920s, are shown in Figure 1.

Based on such observations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 concluded that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level’.

Figure 1: Observed changes in (a) global average surface temperature, (b) global average sea level and (c) northern hemisphere snow cover, from the start of good measurements. This is Figure SPM-3 from the IPCC 2007 Working Group I report (used with permission from IPCC).

Three things are notable about these IPCC conclusions. First, it shows that a warming of at least 0.56°C almost certainly occurred. Second, the most likely value of 0.74°C, while it may appear to be small, is already a sizeable fraction of the global warming of about 5°C that took place from the last glaciation around 20 000 years ago to the present interglacial period (which commenced some 10 000 years ago). Prehistoric global warming led to a complete transformation of the Earth’s surface, with the disappearance of massive ice sheets, and continent-wide changes in vegetation cover, regional extinctions and a sea-level rise of about 120 metres.

Most importantly, the average rate of warming at the end of the last glaciation was about 5°C in some 10 000 years, or 0.05°C per century, while the observed rate of warming in the last 50 years is 1.3°C per century and the estimated rate over the next 100 years could be more than 5°C per century, which is 100 times as fast as during the last deglaciation. Such rapid rates of warming would make adaptation by natural and human systems extremely difficult or impossible (see Chapters 2 and 7).

Some critics have questioned the IPCC’s estimated warming figures on the following main grounds. First, there are questions of uncertainties due to changes in instruments. Instrumental changes include changes in the housing of thermometers (’meteorological screens’) which affect the ventilation and radiant heat reaching the thermometers, and changes in ships’ observations from measuring the temperature of water obtained from buckets dropped over the side of ships to measurements of the temperature of sea water pumped in to cool the ships’ engines. These changes are well recognised by scientists and have been allowed for. They contribute to the estimate of uncertainty.

Second, there are concerns that estimates are biased by observations from stations where local warming is caused by the growth of cities (an effect known as ‘urban heat islands’).

The heat island effect is due to the heat absorbed or given out by buildings and roads (especially at night). However, this effect works both ways on observed trends. In many large cities, observing sites, which were originally near city centres (and thus subject to warming as the cities grew) were replaced by observing sites at airports outside the cities. This led to a temporary observed cooling until urbanisation reached as far as the airports. Observations from sites affected by urban heat islands have, in general, been either corrected for this effect or excluded from the averages. A recent study of temperature trends on windy nights versus all nights shows similar warming trends, even though wind disperses locally generated heat and greatly reduces any heat island effect.

One of the strengths of the surface observations is that those from land surface meteorological stations tend to agree well with nearby ship observations, despite different sources of possible errors. Average sea surface temperatures show similar trends to land-based observations for the same regions. Airborne observations from balloon-borne radio-sondes at near-ground levels also tend to support the land-based observational trends.

Another issue often raised is the apparent difference between the trends in temperature found in surface observations and those from satellites, which began in 1979. The satellite observations are not straightforward, as corrections are needed for instrumental changes and satellite orbital variations. Moreover, they record average air temperatures over the lowest several kilometres of the atmosphere (including the lower stratosphere at mid- to high-latitudes) rather than surface air temperatures, so they do not measure the same thing as surface observations. Recent corrections to the satellite and radiosonde estimates to take account of these problems have removed the discrepancies and confirm that surface and tropospheric (lower atmospheric) warming are occurring.

All the above criticisms of the temperature records have been addressed explicitly in successive IPCC reports and can now be dismissed.⁶ Legitimate estimates of uncertainty are given in the IPCC assessments.

Supporting evidence for recent global warming comes from many different regions and types of phenomena. For example, there is now ample evidence of retreat of alpine and continental glaciers in response to the twentieth century warming (there are exceptions in some mid- to high-latitude coastal locations where snowfall has increased).⁷ This retreat has accelerated in the last couple of decades as the rate of global warming has increased. Figure 2 shows dramatic evidence of this for the Trient Glacier in the Valais region of southern Switzerland. The surviving glacier is in the upper centre, extending right to the skyline. Measured retreat of the terminus of the glacier since 1986–87 is roughly 500 metres by 2000 and another 200 metres by 2003. Early twentieth-century terminal and lateral moraines (where rock and earth are dumped at the end or sides of the glacier by the flowing and receding ice) are evident, free of trees, indicating recent ice retreat, and the present terminus of the glacier is slumped, indicating rapid melting.⁸ Similar pictures, often paired with earlier ones, are available for many glaciers worldwide.⁹

Changes in other aspects of climate, broadly consistent with global warming, have also occurred over the last century. These include decreases of about 10% in snow cover as observed by satellites since the 1960s (see Figure 1c), and a large decrease in spring and summer sea-ice since the 1950s in the northern hemisphere. The latter reached a record low in 2007, and the melt rate is much faster than projected in the 2007 IPCC report. Warming has also been rapid near the Antarctic Peninsula, although not around most of mainland Antarctica.

Observed melting of permafrost is documented, especially for Alaska, by the US Arctic Research Commission in its Permafrost Task Force Report in 2003, and around the Arctic by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) in 2004 and kept up to date by the annual National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ‘Report Card’ on the state of the Arctic. Observed changes in the Arctic and their implications are summarised in Box 1 from ACIA.¹⁰

According to the NOAA Arctic ‘Report Card’, a decrease in sea-ice extent in the Arctic summer of 40% since the 1980s is consistent with an increase in spring and, to a lesser extent, summer temperatures at high northern latitudes. Trends in summer (September) and winter (March) sea ice extent from 1979 to 2007 are 11.3 and 2.8% per decade, respectively.¹¹ Antarctic sea-ice extent has fluctuated in recent decades but remained fairly stable, apart from the area around the Antarctic Peninsula where rapid regional warming has led to sea-ice retreat and the disintegration of several large semi-permanent ice shelves attached to the mainland (see Chapter 5, Figure 21 below).

Other changes include rapid recession of the ice cap on Mt Kilimanjaro in Kenya and other tropical glaciers in Africa, New Guinea and South America, as well as glaciers in Canada, the United States and China. Permafrost is melting in Siberia (where it has caused problems with roads, pipelines and buildings) and in the European Alps (where it has threatened the stability of some mountain peaks and cable car stations due to repeated melting and freezing of water in crevices in the rocks, forcing them apart). Catastrophic release of water dammed behind the terminal moraines of retreating glaciers in high valleys is of increasing concern in parts of the Himalayas, notably Bhutan and Nepal, according to a United Nations Environment Program report. All of these phenomena have accelerated in recent decades.⁷, ¹²

Measurements of the Southern Patagonian ice sheet in South America indicate rapid melting, with the rate of melting estimated from gravity measurements by satellite as 27.9 ± 11 cubic km per year from 2002 to 2006. This is equivalent to nearly 1 mm per decade rise in global average sea level.¹³

Global warming has led to thermal expansion of the ocean waters as well as melting of mountain glaciers. John Church, from CSIRO in Australia, and colleagues recently compared model calculations of regional sea-level rise with observations from tide gauge and satellite altimeter records. They concluded that the best estimate of average sea-level rise globally for the period 1950 to 2000 is about 1.8 to 1.9 ± 0.2 mm per year (that is just under 10 cm), and that sea-level rise is greatest (about 3 mm per year or 30 cm per century) in the eastern equatorial Pacific and western equatorial Indian Ocean. Observed rates of rise are smallest (about 1 mm per year) in the western equatorial Pacific and eastern Indian Ocean, particularly the north-west coast of Australia. Regional variations are weaker for much of the rest of the global oceans, and are due to different rates of warming in different parts of the oceans, and changes in winds, currents and atmospheric pressure.¹⁴

Recent observations indicate that the global rate of sea-level rise increased to about 3 mm per year in the period 1993 to 2008. This could be in part a natural fluctuation, including effects of major volcanic dust clouds reducing surface warming in some years. However, it could also be a result of an increasing contribution from the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, as has been observed locally. The total twentieth-century rise is estimated to be 17 ± 5 cm. This has no doubt contributed to coastal erosion in many regions, but in most cases the sea-level rise impact was not enough to be identified as such, due to other more localised factors such as variations in storminess and the construction of sea walls and other structures. James Hansen argues that the acceleration will increase rapidly due to increasing contributions from the major ice sheets, leading to up to several metres sea-level rise by 2100.¹⁵

BOX 1: KEY FINDINGS OF THE ARCTIC CLIMATE IMPACT ASSESSMENT

 The Arctic climate is now warming rapidly and much larger changes are expected.

 Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications.

 Arctic vegetation zones are projected to shift, bringing wide-ranging impacts.

 Animal species’ diversity, ranges and distribution will change.

 Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms.

 Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources.

 Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure.

 Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts.

 Elevated ultraviolet radiation levels [a combined effect of global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion] will affect people, plants, and animals.

 Multiple influences interact to cause impacts to people and ecosystems.

Figure 2: The Trient Glacier near Forclaz in the Valais region of southern Switzerland in 2000. Rapid retreat has occurred during the latter part of the twentieth century. (Photograph by AB Pittock.)

Evidence for a strengthening of the global hydrological cycle, in which more rapid evaporation takes place in low latitudes, and more rain and snowfall occurs at high latitudes, comes from observations of salinity increases in the tropical and sub-tropical surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean over the last 50 years. This is accompanied by a freshening of surface waters in the high latitudes of the North and South Atlantic. Estimates indicate that net evaporation rates over the tropical Atlantic must have increased by 5–10% over the past four decades, with an accelerated trend since 1990.¹⁶

Other regional changes are also evident in rainfall, cloud cover and extreme temperature events, but due to large natural variability these are not yet quite so well established. Migration polewards of the mid-latitude storms tracks associated with the so-called ‘annular modes’ is leading to greater aridity in some mid-latitude regions and increased precipitation at high latitudes.¹⁷ However, regional climate properties often vary on timescales of several decades. These are difficult to distinguish from longer-term changes without records longer than those presently available in some regions.

Why is the present rapid warming happening?

Scientists believe the rapid warming in the last several decades is due mostly to human-induced changes to the atmosphere, on top of some natural variations. Climate change induced by human activity may occur due to changes in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere from waste gases due to industry, farm animals and land clearing, or changes in the land surface reflectivity caused by land clearing, cropping and irrigation. These gases include several, such as carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen, that can absorb heat radiation (long-wave or infra-red radiation) from the Sun or the Earth. When warmed by the Sun or the Earth they give off heat radiation both upwards into space and downwards to the Earth. These gases are called greenhouse gases and act like a thick blanket surrounding the Earth. In effect, the Earth’s surface has to warm up to give off as much energy as heat radiation as is being absorbed from the incident sunlight (which includes visible, ultraviolet and infra-red radiation). Soot particles from fires can also lead to local surface warming by absorbing sunlight, but reflective particles, such as those formed from sulfurous fumes (sulfate aerosols) can lead to local cooling by preventing sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface.

Natural greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour. These help to keep Earth some 33°C warmer than if there were no greenhouse gases and clouds in the atmosphere.

Human activities have increased the concentrations of several greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to what is termed the ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane and several other artificial chemicals. The Kyoto Protocol, set up to begin the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (see Chapter 11), includes a package or ‘basket’ of six main gases to be regulated. Besides carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), these are nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCS), perfluorocarbons (PFCS) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Anthropogenic, or human-caused increases in carbon dioxide, come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, the destruction of forests and carbon-rich soil and the manufacture of cement from limestone. The concentration of carbon dioxide before major land clearing and industrialisation in the eighteenth century was about 265 parts per million (ppm). Methane comes from decaying vegetable matter in rice paddies, digestive processes in sheep and cattle, burning and decay of biological matter and from fossil fuel production. HFCs are manufactured gases once widely used in refrigerants and other industries, but which are largely being phased out of use because of their potential to destroy atmospheric ozone. PFCs and SF6 are industrial gases used in the electronic and electrical industries, fire fighting, solvents and other industries.

Water vapour concentrations in the atmosphere are closely controlled by the surface temperature. These can act as an amplifier of warming due to increases in other greenhouse gases or indeed warming due to Earth’s orbital variations. Similarly clouds can act as an amplifier by absorbing heat radiation, or as a reducer of warming by reflecting incoming sunlight. The net result of clouds on the Earth’s temperature depends on their height, latitude and droplet size.

Amplifying effects are called positive feedbacks (as in electronic circuitry). Loss of snow cover due to warming is another positive feedback, as it leads to greater absorption of sunlight at the Earth’s surface and thus more warming. On the time-scale of the glacial-interglacial cycles of thousands of years, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere also act as a positive feedback, with the initial warming effect coming from variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The amplification comes from warmer oceans giving off dissolved carbon dioxide, and thus increasing the natural warming via the greenhouse effect (see Chapter 2).

As early as the nineteenth century some scientists noted that increased emissions of carbon dioxide might lead to global warming (see Chapter 11). Present estimates of future climate change are based on projections of future emissions of greenhouse gases and resulting concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere. These estimates also depend on factors such as the sensitivity of global climate to increases in greenhouse gas concentrations; the simultaneous warming or cooling effects of natural climate fluctuations; and changes in dust and other particles in the atmosphere from volcanoes, dust storms and industry. Such projections are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5.

Given that climate has changed during the twentieth century, the key question is how much of this is due to human-induced increased greenhouse gas emissions, and how much to other more natural causes. This has great relevance to policy because, if the changes are due to human activity, they are likely to continue and even accelerate unless we change human behaviour and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases.¹⁸

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 concluded:

 Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 … The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.

 The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the [Third Assessment Report in 2001], leading to very high confidence [at least 90%] that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m-2.

An important verification of expected impacts of increased greenhouse gases on climate comes from a study by James Hansen and colleagues. They calculated the energy imbalance at the surface due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and compared this with precise measurements of increasing heat content of the oceans over the past decade. This study highlighted the importance of the delay in ocean warming, which implies future warming, sea-level rise and ice sheet disintegration.¹⁸

A paper by William Ruddiman of the University of Virginia, in 2003, raises the possibility that human influence on the climate has been significant since well before the Industrial Revolution due to the cutting down of primeval forests to make way for agriculture, and irrigated rice farming in Asia. Ruddiman claims that the Earth’s orbital changes should have led to a decline in carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere from 8000 years ago. Instead there was a rise of 100 parts per billion in methane concentrations, and of 20 to 25 ppm in carbon dioxide by the start of the industrial era. He calculates that this has led to the Earth being 0.8°C warmer than if humans had not been active, an effect hidden because it has cancelled out a natural cooling due to orbital variations.¹⁹

Simulations of the response to natural forcings alone (that is, natural changes causing the climate to change), such as variability in energy from the Sun and the effects of volcanic dust, do not explain the warming experienced in the second half of the twentieth century. However, they may have contributed to the observed warming in the previous 50 years (see Chapter 2). The sulfate aerosol effect would have caused cooling over the last half century, although by how much is uncertain. This cooling effect has become less since the 1980s as sulfur emissions have been reduced in North America and Europe in order to reduce urban pollution and acid rain.

The best agreement between model simulations of climate and observations over the last 140 years has been found when all the above human-induced and natural forcing factors are combined. These results show that the factors included are sufficient to explain the observed changes, but do not exclude the possibility of other minor factors contributing.²⁰

Furthermore, it is very likely that the twentieth century warming has contributed significantly to the observed sea-level rise of some 10 to 20 cm, through the expansion of sea water as it gets warmer, and widespread melting of land-based ice. Observed sea-level rise and model estimates are in agreement, within the uncertainties, with a lack of significant acceleration of sea-level rise detected during most of the twentieth century. The lack of an observed acceleration up to the 1990s is due to long time lags in warming the deep oceans, but there is evidence of an acceleration in the last decade probably due to rapidly increasing contributions from melting of land-based ice in Alaska, Patagonia and Greenland.¹⁴

Studies by US scientists of twentieth century drying trends in the Mediterranean and African monsoon regions suggest that the observed warming trend in the Indian Ocean, which is related to the enhanced greenhouse effect, is the most important feature driving these dryings, through its dynamic effects on atmospheric circulation. Another study shows a tendency for more severe droughts in Australia, related to higher temperatures and increased surface evaporation. Both studies see tentative attribution of drying trends to the enhanced greenhouse effect, and are pointers to future regional climate changes.²¹

A deepening and polewards shift of the belts of low atmospheric pressure surrounding each pole, known technically as an increase in the northern and southern ‘annular modes’ of the atmospheric circulation, has been observed in the last several decades. It is also found in model simulations of climate with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. However, the observed shift is greater than the simulated projections. Model simulations have now at least partially resolved this difference by including the effect of reductions in ozone in the upper atmosphere, which have occurred especially in the high latitude winter, since the 1970s (see Chapter 9). Both enhanced greenhouse gases and ozone reductions in the upper atmosphere increase the equator-to-pole temperature difference, leading to a strengthening of the westerly winds at high latitudes. These changes help explain decreasing rainfall in southern Australia, and a stronger North Atlantic Oscillation, which affects storm tracks and climate in Europe.¹⁷

Climate models suggest a possible slowdown of the overturning circulation in the North Atlantic that is driven by vertical differences in temperature and salinity (known as the ‘thermo-haline circulation’). Such a change could result from surface warming, increased rainfall and runoff at high latitudes, and reduced sea-ice formation.²² The reality of a slowdown of the thermo-haline circulation is supported by some recent observations from several areas, as well as paleo-climatic evidence that it has occurred before (see Chapter 2).²³ This could lead to rapid climate changes in the North Atlantic region, and has prompted the setting up of a monitoring and research program called the Rapid Climate Change Programme (RAPID) by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the US National Science Foundation. The aim is to improve the ability to quantify the chances and magnitude of future rapid climate change.²⁴ Its main focus is the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation, including the possibility of a slow-down in the Gulf Stream, relative cooling in Western Europe and a reduction in the Atlantic Ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The importance of delayed climate responses

Delayed climate responses to greenhouse gas emissions require early action. At present there is a large imbalance between present and past emissions of carbon dioxide into

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